Accidents happen

I ran away once.  Down to the park.  I planned never to return. 
The glazier had propped the sheet
of glass against the sideway fence, thick and glossy.  He dropped it off that morning to replace the glass in the
back bedroom window, which one of my brothers had taken out with a tennis
ball.  My mother had been angry
when it happened, only a little. 
She understood she said, ‘accidents happen’. 
She was in the kitchen cooking
porridge, stirring the lumpy white goo in the pot at the Kooka.  She stood in her dressing gown, pink
quilted chenille with an apron tied around her waist.  Not much waist to see. 
Her stomach muscles had gone she said, she had lost them having
I heard the tinkle of glass and ran
out into the back yard where my brothers stood red faced and panicking. 
Our father had left for work.  His ghost was there, the traces of his
spirit hovering in the background. 
We knew had he been there, he would have burst into rage.  But my mother was only a little bit
angry.  Enough to remember to turn
off the stove when she came out to see the damage done. 
My mother had lived through the
Second World War when the Nazis invaded her country, she had lived on nothing
but tulip bulb soup for weeks in a row. 
They flavoured it with salt. 
She knew about the unexpected things that happen and she could get
scared, but not today because my father was not there. 
My mother was only ever scared when
my father was there because he was the angry one and most often times he was
angry with her.  I do not know why
he was angry with her, except she seemed always to get it wrong.  She upset him.  She cooked his food wrong.  She ironed his clothes wrong.  She dressed herself wrong and most of
all she could not keep us quiet when he was trying to study for his accountancy
exams;  when he was trying to watch
the television; when he was trying to sleep. 
After breakfast, I ate the porridge
holding my breath because although she had remembered to turn off the stove
before she went outside my mother had still burnt it.  The porridge had a bitter taste.
After breakfast I went outside with
my tennis ball.  I bounced it up
and down  in front of me as I
walked.  I bounced my ball down the
kitchen step onto the concrete path that led to the laundry one way, the
washing line the other.  I followed
the concrete path out and around the washing line then retraced my steps back
to the kitchen door, down beside the laundry and out onto the footpath that
leads to the front yard and the street. 
I walked up and down the side path
past the sheet of glass, counting the whole time, 95, 96, 97.  I was aiming for 200.  The ball hit a rut in the
concrete.  I had aimed badly and
the ball ricocheted off in the direction of the glass.  It smashed a chunk off the corner and
the broken piece landed on the footpath and shattered into smaller pieces.  They glinted in the sun.  It was not a loud shattering but it was
loud enough to send my mother running from the kitchen. 
She looked at the glass, she looked
at me and her face went red, her eyes narrowed and she yelled at me.
‘Not again.  How could you?’
What did she mean not again, as if
I had done it in the first place?
I ran away from home, determined
never to return.  My father’s anger
was a given, but my mother’s anger was intolerable.   I had lost her forever. 

27 thoughts on “Accidents happen”

  1. "not again", she probably meant Oh no! another sheet of broken glass, but when you're young you don't think that way. You (we) immediately think that the person is meaning that it was our fault again, even when it wasn't the first time. I do hope you weren't punished for it.

  2. It’s funny. As a kid, I ran away a few times too, never to return. Of course I always did. I was wondering when running away stopped being an option?
    Enjoyed the story, very much.

  3. It's a matter of who you respect and wish to be loved by, criminals vandals graffitists have no respect for this society, no wish to be loved by it.

  4. "Not again,"because again a child under her supervision had done something to allow her husband to be angry with her.
    Or maybe not.
    "I had lost her for ever." Can you explain this a little more, Elisabeth? It actually reads to me as she had lost you forever.

  5. I remember being totally dismayed when my mom got angry. It was such a betrayal. But my biological father. Oh, god. He was always angry. It seeped off of him. Walking always on eggshells around him. It was never a case of whether or not he was angry but how much.

  6. I don't understand this, Birdie. What was your mother's anger a betrayal of? Who was she betraying? How? Was she supposed to be Donna Read, never having a feeling about anything? I'm not trying to be hostile, I'm genuinely interested in understanding your feelings.

  7. One of my earliest memories—and you know how few of those I have—is of running away. I must have been about four. I got on my bike, with its thick tyres and its stabilisers, and got to the end of the street—so, what’re we talking? fifty yards?—before my dad caught up with me. I remember looking back and seeing him running to get to me. No idea what I did so wrong that I decided I didn’t want to live there anymore but it was probably something trivial like eating too many chocolate biscuits.

    The next time I must’ve been about sixteen. This time I wrote a note, got on a train and spent the night in the cheapest, tackiest hotel in Glasgow I could find—I had to share the room with a drunk who turned up after closing time (now that was scary)—but when my parents came home the next day (life went on without me)—the next day was a Sunday—there I was, the letter had gone and not a word was ever said about it. Life just slouched on as per normal.

    I do recall breaking the glass doors on a bookcase of all things; I would be maybe eight at the time. I was playing in the front room with, would you believe it, a SuperBall and, diving to catch it, I flung myself into the bookcase shattering the doors. I have no idea if I was punished for that in fact I don’t have very clear memories of any punishment other than my parents’ (but especially my father’s) disapproval; it’s not like they beat me within an inch of my life all the time. We were all smacked when we were little and I suppose that continued through most of primary school but as I got older it was enough to think I might be hit not that that stopped me being bad; I simply got better at not being caught. My brother was nowhere near as fly as me and he and our dad were always at loggerheads. In fact it got even worse when he became a teenager.

    Anger passes and, to be honest, it was rare for either of my parents to get angry with me; mostly they registered annoyance. I think what I hated most was being a disappointment to them. To their credit they both tried not to be disappointed with me but they often had difficulty being actually proud and there’s a huge difference. How’s a person who never read a novel since school (and maybe not even then) to find it in him or herself to be proud of a son who actually wrote one? Fiction—made up stuff—wasn’t a part of their world and so, as a writer of fiction, I was never going to be the kind of son they wanted me to be. I wonder how many times they lay in bed at nights wondering where they went wrong.

  8. Pardon me and I'm terrified of turning this into a sheep thread (5people producing 200 comments) but I think Birdie felt betrayed if the love she was accustomed to from her mother was withdrawn at times.

  9. Such a complex story – short but powerful Elisabeth! I wonder is there any parent out there who never fails to live up to those impossible expectations we as kids sometimes have?

  10. I understand exactly how you felt … sometimes a mother is hard to grasp – and in an instant is gone from you when you realise that somehow you have betrayed her … but don't know why.
    A beautiful post that captures ans instance in your life brilliantly.

  11. I feel sorry for you both – your mother must have been continually exhausted, so exasperation (whether fairly aimed or otherwise) would be understandable.

    But I do know how easily that's said several decades later….

  12. Your posts read like stories — the tension inherent in them, the arc, the resolution, the ambiguity. I thought a lot about the strange and intricate ways we are attached to our parents when I read this, Elisabeth, and I thought about how we reframe these indelible "moments" in our lives. I also thought about those threads — how frayed they are and how sticky, how what tied you to your father at all was your mother. I thought, too, about who holds what in a family — who holds the blame, who holds the hope, etc. and how when those roles shift, the child is devastated.

  13. My mother's anger was punishment enough for me, River, which is the point of this piece. For some children, perhaps most children, our mother's disappointment is the worst thing in the world, at least that's how I experienced my mother's uncharacteristic anger then.

    Thanks, River.

  14. That's a good question, Anthony. When does running away cease to be an option? I suppose it's there as long as you're living in your parent's home. Once you've left home, ostensibly for good, the business of running away ceases to exist, though there are also the possibilities of running away as in going interstate or abroad, and equally the possibility of never returning, all effective methods of protest at our disposal, however temporary or otherwise.

    Thanks, Anthony.

  15. I agree Robert, it is a case of whom you respect and wish to be loved by.

    Vandals and the like are hell bent on destruction, but of course there'd be reasons for that, too. That's not to condone such folk but to try to understand.

    Thanks, Robert.

  16. Maybe that notion that I had lost my mother forever through her anger at my accident reads a little too cryptically, Frances. I had intended it in the sense that a little person experiences a mother's anger as a loss of love and that can be devastating, almost as if the mother the child once believed she had has become a different person.

    It's about learning to integrate the mixed feelings of love and hate but all of this takes time and help. At that moment for my child self the love and hate were spilt down the middle.

    Thanks, Frances.

  17. I reckon it's a sad thing, Birdie, the way fathers of previous generations and even oftentimes today get caught up in the role of the aggressor. I suspect it happens for all sorts of reasons – biological, sociological and psychological – but more often than not such extremely angry fathers terrify their children, and they often don't even realise they're doing it.

    Kate Grenville wrote a fictional account of one such father from his point of view in a book called 'Dark Places'. It's extraordinary to go into the mind of such a troubled man, and make some sense of why he becomes the brute he becomes.

    As for a mother's anger in such circumstances, like you, I found my normally sanguine mother's anger with me too much to bear.

    Thanks, Birdie.

  18. I'll try to answer here for Birdie, if i might frances. I think there's something about a mother who normally keeps her feelings well in check and who then suddenly becomes enraged that can be difficult for a child to bear.

    Of course, it's better for both, mother and child, when a mother is able to let it be known how she feels in most circumstances, whether pleased or angry, but preferably in moderation. Authenticity is important and I don't blame my mother now for being angry, I can well understand her reaction. I'm only trying to write about it from a child's perspective.

    Thanks again, Frances.

  19. Those are sad thoughts here, Jim, especially when you write about a father who might struggle to hide any disappointment in his son but find it equally hard to show any pleasure or pride in his son's achievements, as foreign as they might seem to him.

    My mother was proud of me academically. I sensed that in secondary school for the first time. For my father I sensed I scarcely existed except as one of the many.

    I'm therefore sensitive to my children feeling they matter. It's easy enough though to get it wrong and to overlook their achievements. It's often easier to complain about their misdemeanors. I suspect most parents struggle with this.

    Thanks, Jim.

  20. I agree with you, Robert. I think that was Birdie's point that she 'felt betrayed if the love she was accustomed to from her mother was withdrawn at times.'

    There's little chance of turning this into a No Place for Sheep thread, if only because I'm slow to respond to comments and I also moderate them first.

    If you had any idea of how many spam comments I clear out of my spam folder daily you'd be inclined to do likewise. No doubt I need to instal better spam blocking technology. I never see spam comments in Jennifer Wilson's blog but I'm too technologically challenged to tackle that.

    Thanks, Robert

  21. I agree, Niamh, our childhood expectations can be impossible to meet, and yet at bottom most children – all children, I expect, like all of us in general – simply want to be loved for who we/they are. It seems a small hope but it's so hard with so many competing interests and the weight of traumatic history behind us. It gets in the way of most of our efforts at genuine love.

    Thanks, Niamh.

  22. Aguja, how lovely to see you again here. I agree with you the pleasure we feel in our mother's approval can be so quickly snatched away but equally it can be reinstated, as long as there are enough opportunities for a loving exchange.

    Thanks, Aguja.

  23. It's the rare quality of my mother's anger that day, as you suggest, kirk, that caused most of my angst.

    If I had experienced a mother who was often angry, I might have taken her reaction with more equilibrium.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  24. Yes, Elizabeth, there is much to consider in the ways in which family members tend to be assigned familiar roles. When one or other member steps out of role it can be confusing even devastating. Equally there can be strange positive role reversals, one of which I remember when my father gave me ten shillings to buy lollies for me and my siblings one afternoon. Excessive perhaps but it came as such a surprise that he could also be generous like our mother.

    Thanks, Elizabeth.

  25. My mother lived through that war too. She was forced into doing things by a political system she absolutely hated and was eager to leave when the war ended, My dad"s family was kicked out of their home when the czechs and Russians came to take their winnings. That was a war that left many people everywhere hurting. As for the Nazis, they were souls completely brain washed much like the Taliban today.
    Leaders with a master plan and a strong understanding of how to use media to get what they want from the masses are
    real threats. North Korean are another example of that horror.
    Power wielding people who are abusive are the worst and we have yet to find a way to stop then without violence.
    Until I was two+ I was fed potatoes and carrots,some of which my mom risked her life to steal from nearby farm fields in the night, boiled in a salty liquid. Sometimes onions, if available, were added for a change of flavour.
    Life as immigrants was harsh too but at least there was hope of a better future.

  26. Hello Elisbeth
    I am so pleased I wandered over here today to read your blog.
    You are a wonderful and interesting storyteller.
    I thought these words were brilliant.
    "His ghost was there, the traces of his spirit hovering in the background."

    I used to run away every Thursday, didn't go very far, just down the bush. I guess I was hoping someone would miss me.

    Oh and kids these day would not have eaten the burnt porridge.

    Be well my friend.
    Peggy ♥♥

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